October 2017

Pedal strokes

The greatest cycling challenge of my life

The past month has been an intense whirlwind of an experience. That is the month of October 2017. It all started from a Facebook post when I saw an advert for an event that was being held for an entire month and it was titled as the 'Great Cycle Challenge' (GCC). Hmm. Cycling. Challenge. Sounds good to me.

I dug a little deeper and found that the event was free to enter and all you had to do was cycle as far as possible during October and raise money for the Children's Medical Research Institute in an effort to combat childhood cancer. I signed up on the spot. I had no idea of far I was going to cycle or how much money I was even going to raise but I had time and wanted to see just how far I could go on two wheels.

Initially, I set myself the goal of doing 200 km and raise $200 which equates to a 1 km/$. This worked out to a weekly plan of short 15 km sessions 3 times during the week and a long 50-60 km ride on Sunday which would add up to a rough total of 100 km. This means that in two weeks I would have achieved my 200 km goal and have the rest of the time to stretch my targets to the moon.

October 1 was a Sunday and I started strong out of the gates

As the first week progressed, I started developing a routine of plugging in the km's every other day during the week using roughly the same neighborhood route as my circuit. It was a 1 km circle with little traffic so I would just go out, put some headphones on and spin the pedals - I was doing this often enough that I eventually got a regular following every evening from a few kids in the neighborhood which was funny to see.

A few days prior to the 6th of October, I had another Facebook driven revelation when I found an event that was called the 'Vince Cycle Club (VCC) Belgie Ride', which was being put on by a local Perth bike store. There was very little information given about the ride itself but they promised a good time and some exciting ventures into the smooth roads (and slightly dodgy gravel paths) around the Perth CBD.

At first, I was very hesitant. I had never ridden in a group before and for as long as I have owned my road bike, which was tipping on the 4 year mark, I had never done any sort of social riding, ever. Not because I did not want to but because I never sought it out purposely and hoped that a community would magically appear in my life - which never happened.

So, with the GCC at the back of my mind, it took away all the risks and barriers I was conjuring in my head and even if the Belgie Ride was not what I expected, at least I would get the km's out of it for the challenge.

“I had ridden 1008.2 km for a total of $570 for the cause.”

On the day, I caught the train into the city and rode the rest of the way through Northbridge to make it for the 5:30 pm start. This was also on a Friday night (what a time to be alive). I arrived alone, and did not recognise any faces in the crowd that was already gathering around the VCC spot.

The atmosphere was quite relaxed with everyone all kitted up in their riding gear and fast bikes while having a chat with one another. I soon started a conversation to a guy next to me who happened to have one of those fast bikes by asking him "Hey, have you done one of these before?" which led to a response of "No, I haven't". The conversation continued into a heavy discussion about work then training then functional threshold power (FTP) then the bicycles we both brought then the route for tonight and on and on and on..

The route ended up to be a 42 km loop that started out from the upper end of Northbridge then through the city towards Kings Park and then further North towards City Beach then back to the CBD along Lake Monger.

It was an epic adventure as we started off on smooth and paved roads in the city then went on the most ridiculous climbs on loose gravel and what seemed to me like bush bashing but on a bicycle. Also, it was quite dark by the time we reached the gravel bits so all I could see was what I could glean from the sphere of light coming from my torch.

Even though there were moments when I was struggling to turn the pedals a bit, I kept up with the group for the entire ride and was never in fear of getting dropped. The pace was decent but everyone was there to just have a little bit of fun that night. Once we got back, VCC were kind enough to give out free beers to all the riders and had a little burger pop up stand to feed the crowd. Even though this was my first experience at a group ride and the Belgie was a special kick-off event, it was definitely a great experience and confidence booster for me.

After a training session in the hills somewhere - my first ride ever in the Perth Hills

On the night, while I was standing in line waiting for a burger, I started talking to one of the other riders who mentioned something about how he was part of a cycling team and they were participating in an upcoming race called the Tour of Margaret River at the start of November.

His name was Lance. From my Belgie performance, Lance explained that the team was looking for one last rider and thought that I would be a good fit. Again, similar doubts as before floated to the forefront of my mind and I closed off the night by making excuses like "Oh, I won't have enough time to train before November" and "I've never ridden properly in a group before until today".

I really did not make up my mind until I rode with the team a couple of times where they were able to gauge my ability as well as for me to see if I got along with the group. When I received a vote of confidence in the group and I started to believe in myself more, I eventually committed to race on the Tour.

At the time, I was about a month out and with the GCC happening at the same time, I had no excuse but to put in the kilometres for the remaining time I had. What followed was a whirlwind of solo training rides, early mornings and long days in the saddle with the team, too many coffee stops and what now feels like a Tour of Everywhere in Perth.

My Great Cycle Challenge came to an end on the 31st of October 2017 and by the end of the month I had ridden 1008.2 km for a total of $570 for the cause. Distance wise, I rank as the 20th contender in WA and money wise, I am 200th in the state. I smashed my original 200km target by 643% and my fundraising goal of $200 by 285%.

The Tour of Margaret River (ToMR) itself took place from 10 November to 12 November with a total of 4 races over the 3 days.

  • Stage 1 (Day 1): 42 km Team Time Trial
  • Stage 2 (Day 2): 50 km Road Race
  • Stage 3 (Day 3): 71 km Road Race
  • Stage 4 (Day 3): 42 km Team Time Trial

What made the Tour special was that it would be a multi-day cycling epic with professional riders intermingled with amateur riders of all levels. The pros were of the highest calibre who were serious players on the world stage and it was pretty easy to feel a little bit star struck (and completely out of depth) when you saw names like Vos, Van Vleuten, McKewen, Keenan, O'Grady and Freiberg walking around the Event Village and riding beside you on the roads.

I started my Tour with a good level of confidence with the amount of training and km's I clocked in over the past month but more importantly, with a strong understanding of what my expectations were from myself. Given my lack of experience in riding seriously with other people, let alone racing in a multi-day cycling event, my expectations for the Tour was that I would cross the line each day by pushing my own limits and standards while also contributing to the team as much as possible. I was not there to win against all the other competitors but to win against myself. It was a serious trial by fire and I had a lot to prove.

First day. The Time Trial in the world of cycling is more affectionately known as the 'the race of truth' where riders race alone against the clock and winning depends solely on each riders' individual strength and endurance. For Day 1 of the Tour, we would be performing a Team Time Trial as a core team of 6 and it was an important stage that would determine our classification amongst all the other riders for the rest of the Tour.

Champion Lakes Racing (CLR) team in Time Trial formation

The photo above is a lie by the way. Although some of us were smiling for the camera and we looked pretty cool riding as a pack, time trials are no joke. Right from the start, you are pushing hard on the pedals to go as fast as possible. Pacing yourself for the entire 42 km is important as you do not want to go so hard that you burn yourself out too early but you are by no means taking it easy at any point of the race.

At the end of Day 1, we eventually placed 7th in F division, with the grouping system stretching all the way from A to J division which contained 10 teams each. It was a decent place to be and a good result for the amount of effort we put into Day 1 but it also showed that as a team we had a lot of room to rise up the ranks which only meant doubling up on strength and endurance over the following days.

After each day of racing, we spent the majority of our free time preparing for the next day by keeping our bodies fuelled and hydrated and generally by not moving around very much. After dinner, we would end the day with a team briefing for the upcoming event and also a important discussion on lessons learnt and what we could improve on.

Fast forward to the afternoon of Day 3, all of us were physically and emotionally depleted. Our Champion Lakes Racing team ended up placing 3rd out of a total of the 10 teams in Division F, rising from 7th place on Day 1 which is evidence of the calibre of our riders and the immense effort we put in over the whole Tour. At the end of the day, I was feeling a greater sense of satisfaction from crossing that last finish line than in the team's overall result, which I rightfully felt was more of a credit to the rest of the guys than myself.

For me, I was able to finish the Tour which fulfilled the goal I set myself at the start and I could not be more content (seeing my parents at the finish line was definitely icing on the cake). Having said that, I am immensely happy for the guys and for how strong they all were on the road.

This is me putting everything on the line to get to the finish

As I try to make sense of the events of the past month in the days since the Tour ended, I think one of the biggest lessons I gained from the experience would have to be the idea that your own perceived physical/intellectual/emotional/spiritual limits might not always be a solid and reliable indicator of your full potential.

It took me being uncomfortable in a new environment with the first Belgie group ride in order to see through my excuses and to experience the wonderful things reality actually had in store. My pre-conceptions of cycling with others were full of uncertainty and self doubt which were in direct contrast to what I actually found in front of me which was a very welcoming environment, internal peace from my physical ability being enough instead of sub-par and also the awesome realisation that I had a lot more to learn in the world of cycling.

“For me, even though cycling was something I have done for years and years, it took being in a completely new and challenging environment to open up my perceptions and what I thought I would be capable of doing.”

This then expanded my boundaries of what I thought I was capable of, which happened again and again later on as I signed up for the Tour and trained more with the Champion Lakes Racing crew. The environment of training with others often pushed me to the limits and was rarely ever truly relaxed but after I was tested, my level of tolerance for pain, endurance and ultimately performance increased bit by bit. Never would I have ever thought that I would be so involved in a cycling team and be racing on one of the biggest events in the Western Australian cycling calendar.

I guess this experience ultimately comes down to the process of learning something new and can be applied to a high school student entering a rigorous tertiary education course for the first time or someone who grew up mastering ballroom dancing but is now learning how to tango for the first time in their lives.

You will not know what you do not know until you delve in, try, experiment and work hard. Sometimes what you already know makes you complacent to all of the new information and experiences that is out there in the world. For me, even though cycling was something I have done for years and years, it took being in a completely new and challenging environment to open up my perceptions and what I thought I would be capable of doing. Having close support and mentoring from my buddies in Team CLR, friends and family was also an undeniably important factor that allowed me to have the self-belief to push beyond the fringes.

Kudos to you Lance for dragging me into this mess ;)